When I don’t write, I sit alone with my thoughts – smashing fists at four in the morning keeps me awake with the crunching of knuckles. That’s where I was last night, staring at a white ceiling fan two hours from my alarm in the spare bedroom. Affectionately named “The Happy Room” by my son, it’s where I go to be alone. I curl up with the cats who come to find me and silently smirk about how I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with just two cats before I was married. But this morning I wasn’t smirking, I was sobbing.
This time last year, stress and uncertainty left only wisps of hair in a tangled bun atop my head. I broke entirely – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It was more than the weight of teaching post-pandemic, more than the weight of hitting five years from my cancer diagnosis, and more than the weight of parenting. It was all of it.
Since then, I resigned from teaching, worked from home, adopted our daughter, hit remission in March, then came back to teaching at a different school in August. Of all those crazy things, the only one I’ve not given enough emotional real estate is my remission date in March. I used to have big plans for my remission date. At one point, I wanted to get my original wedding dress hand-dyed teal and have a vacation in Colorado with close family and friends. When I actually hit remission, there was no pomp and circumstance. We were in the throes of adjusting to life with a newborn and functioning as a family of four. I thought that living would be enough, that being able to experience being the mother of a newborn without chemo would be enough reason to deny giving my remission date any emphasis, and that revitalizing my love for teaching and coming to terms with the things I cannot change would be enough.
For the first time, I spent the day teaching in a school building where I was never sick and dying. No one there has seen me bald, pale lipped, and crippled by illness. No one would ever know. But in the ways I tried to bulldoze through my remission and creeping grief of October 18th, dually my son’s birthday and my diagnosis date, they were not a way of healthily coping but rather a temporary salve crusting at the corners.
Six years ago, it was also a Tuesday. My mother braided a prayer into my hair as they prepared to take me to surgery, not knowing she would soon wash blood out of the the same braid. This morning, I loved on both our beautiful children before heading to work.
It seems, I guess, I’m not over it. Stage IV ovarian cancer, the trauma of losing organs with all the hopes of children who would look like me, and the juxtaposition of great joy on my son’s birthday and my own grief.
I’m getting there. God help me. Amen.